The “Like” Button is Simply Inadequate – Guaca Mole

guaca4I do not tire of Mexican food.  It is simply delicious.  I enjoy the standards (the El Nopals of the world) but I also enjoy a more upscale, sophisticated take on the traditional flavors.  Chef Fernando Martinez is one of my culinary heroes in Louisville and he doesn’t disappoint at all with the offerings at Guaca Mole.

I could do an entire post (and maybe I will) about the fabulous food this man creates.  I’ve already gone on and on about how much I like Mussel and Burger Bar, but I’ll try to stay on topic for this post.

This was my second visit to Guaca Mole.   Last time I had the shrimp ceviche, which was delicious, along with the carnita sopes, which…you guessed it! Were DELICIOUS!  I see this menu as one of those where you simply can’t make a bad choice so I wanted to try some other items even though I knew I’d be happy ordering the same things I ate the last time.  This place is so good, it made my short list for my “Best Thing I Ever Ate” post.

guaca3With a name like Guaca Mole, you would expect their guacamole to be pretty darned good, and it was.  We ordered the traditional version but they also offer two other, more adventurous varieties.  With a slightly chunky texture and the bright flavors of cilantro and lime we quickly made our way through the appetizer course.

guaca2For the entrée I chose the spicy chicken enchiladas.  I love the tartness of the salsa verde and the pickled red onions are fabulous.  (Note to self:  learn how to make those!  They would be perfect with our homemade carnitas.)  The chicken was tender and flavorful.  The dish was generously sauced and beautifully presented.  I was unable to finish the dish due to the more-than-adequate portion size.

The interior of the space is furnished with modern appointments, continuing the sophisticated mood set by the menu choices.  Service has been right on point during each of my visits with friendly, knowledgeable staff.  I feel the experience is well worth the already reasonable prices.

I highly recommend Guaca Mole and award it a top rating of 5 out of 5.  It’s one of my very favorite places in the city.

Guaca Mole
9921 Ormsby Station Road
Louisville, KY 40223
502-365-4822

Guaca Mole on Urbanspoon

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Earth Friends Cafe

earth friends 1Some former colleagues from West Virginia were in Louisville recently to attend a conference at a downtown hotel.  I was more than happy to meet them for drinks one evening and for lunch the following day.  Not only did I get to see some old friends, but it was a great excuse to go out to eat!  There was one little wrinkle, though….these friends are vegetarian.  Typically I choose a restaurant with no concern for meatless options so I had to do a little research and give my recommendations some serious thought.

These particular friends and I have done a lot of socializing in our past, usually revolving around wine club, WVU athletics, or my annual St. Patrick’s Day soiree.  I am always careful to include vegetarian options on my home entertaining menus.  One time, this friend accidentally ate seafood which was in a creamy marinara style dip before I could warn her of the ingredients.  Even though she was not upset about the mishap, I began giving her verbal rundowns of the “safe” dishes at future events.

The gang wanted to stay close to downtown and possibly include some browsing in local shops.  I’m sure you’re thinking what I was thinking: Nulu.  I began googling like crazy to check out the menus at some of the restaurants on Market Street.  I also checked the Urbanspoon app on my phone because I wanted to see what kind of “like” percentage these places had if I had not been there myself yet to form my own opinion.  Earth Friends Café had a whopping 97% with 85 voters.  The menu had many vegetarian options and some real meat for me.  I threw it out as an option, along with Ghyslain which is one of my favorite lunch places.  My guests chose Earth Friends Café after only slight campaigning from me for the other option.

We met at Joe Ley’s.  I figured that was a landmark out-of-towners couldn’t miss.  We had fun browsing around the massive antiques store before sauntering down the street in the blistering heat and stifling humidity toward the Café.

The restaurant sits off Market Street at the back of a large parking area near the outer reaches of the shopping district.  The interior is bright and open with a glass case displaying desserts and a coffee bar.  The Café features daily specials including a different grilled cheese sandwich and a rotating turkey sandwich each day.  Several options looked good to me including the gourmet grilled cheese (tomatoes, spinach, pesto, provolone, and goat cheese on brioche), the chicken provolone Panini, and the vegan bowls.  Another customer walked by us, extolling the deliciousness of said bowls so they were moving upward on my mental list.

My friends ordered the grilled cheese-of-the-day and the black bean vegan bowl with a side of kale chips.  I ordered the Asian chickpea bowl, mainly because I was really in the mood for Asian flavors.

The kale chips were wonderfully crispy and a deep, dark green.  I really like kale chips even though my husband claims nobody truly likes them, we just want to pretend they’re good because they’re trendy right now.  The only thing wrong with these chips is too much salt.  Every third chip would result in a salt bomb.  That made me yearn for my favorite beer that doesn’t taste like beer, Michelob Ultra, to quench my thirst.  There are no “regular” beers at the Café…only the “fancy” beer as I call it.  You know, microbrews or higher ABV beers.  No wine here, either so I was relegated to a sparkling water.  Which reminds me that they serve waters in mason jars.  That’s ok but it didn’t seem to fit in with the hipster mood of the place.

My friend’s sweet grilled cheese was rich, creamy, and decadent.  Melted cheese with candied nuts and raspberry spread.  I don’t know if I could have eaten the whole sandwich though due to the overwhelming sweetness.  It was more like a dessert.

My other friend’s black bean bowl was reported to be spicy indeed and he liked it.  It contained rice, black beans, cilantro, avocado, corn, and a creamy jalapeno dressing.

earth friends 2My Asian bowl was just okay.  I asked for the dressing on the side because I prefer less dressing than most people.  I tasted the dressing with my fork and noted it was very mild so I poured about a third on and tossed the ingredients.  I could barely taste it.  I added another third, tasted again, and ended up dumping on the remaining dressing.  I still got very little flavor out of it, and certainly not the Asian flavors I was expecting when I placed my order.  It was a bit odd to have the starchy rice topped with a lot of starchy chickpeas. There were scarce veggies – I saw a few tiny broccoli florets, some bits of carrots, and a sprinkling of green onions.  Peanuts added nice crunch, but the dish overall was bland and boring and mostly light brown.

If I were making this dish I would chose rice OR chickpeas, not both.  Then I would add a lot more veggies – broccoli, celery, carrots, maybe a snow pea or two, and red bell pepper.  This is a vegan dish, not a carboholic dish.  The veggies would add much needed color and flavor, not to mention nutritional value.  And that dressing needs to be majorly amped up.

Needless to say I was disappointed in the food at Earth Friends Café.  I’d like to know what those other 82.45 diners ordered that was so good.  Each of our lunches cost around $10 plus drinks, a reasonable amount in my opinion.  Service was friendly and efficient and the restaurant was clean.  I was anxious to get back out on the street for more shopping.

Earth Friends Café gets two out of five from me.  I have no desire to go back.

Earth Friends Café
829 East Market Street
Louisville, KY  40206
502-749-8911

Earth Friends Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Vincenzo’s Deserves Another Review

How many times have you been to a restaurant with a large group and the experience was a disaster?  I know.  Me, too.  You’re all excited about taking your family or group of friends to one of your favorite places only to be embarrassed by the disappointing service and lackluster quality.  Serving large parties is a challenge.  Some places do it better than others.  For example, my family went to Jeff Ruby’s to celebrate a milestone birthday and the entire experience was amazing.  Another great group experience was Vincenzo’s.

I know what you’re thinking: didn’t she diss them in her review a few months ago?  Yes, yes I did.  I wasn’t overly impressed with the so-so quality for the top shelf prices, although service was good.  In the interest of fairness, I felt it was important to convey the details of an outstanding group dinner at this landmark restaurant.

Let’s set the stage:  it is a group of about 20 business professionals.  We are seated in a large private room at one long, rectangular table.  We have one primary server.  Someone else is picking up the tab for the food.   The menu has been predetermined for us.

The first course was very similar to the TORTELLINI ALLA PANNA CON PARMIGIANO REGGIANO from the dinner appetizer menu.  That dish is described on the menu as “pasta pillows filled with ricotta cheese served in a Reggiano Parmigiano cream sauce with prosciutto, peas and mushrooms”.  We were served bow tie pasta with peas and cream sauce.  While I still maintain that fine Italian dining should feature fresh made pasta, this dish was yummy.  Put cream sauce on pretty much anything and I’ll eat it.  I also happen to adore peas.  I like the way they burst in your mouth when they cooked to just the right doneness and the bright green color looks so pretty on the plate.

After that we were served INSALATINA DEL KENTUCKY described on the menu as “Kentucky limestone Bibb lettuce with walnuts, goat cheese and orange supreme with Champagne vinaigrette“.  This was a delicious flavor combination in a fresh, light presentation.  I usually skip the salad course to save my appetite and my wallet for the “good stuff” – hot, savory dishes.  But this salad was very enjoyable and I would like to recreate it at home in my own kitchen.  Goat cheese=delightful.

The entrée course was a combination of a version of the FILETTO RIPIENO (9 oz filet grilled and stuffed with gorgonzola cheese, wild mushrooms glazed with Bordelaise sauce) and the POLLO CON ASPARAGI (Farm raised airline breast of chicken served with asparagus tips, sun-dried tomatoes and gorgonzola cheese).

I pride myself on attaining level 20 in the “food” category on Quiz Up.  In fact, it’s my best category aside from “name that celebrity”.  (yes, I watch a lot of mindless television.  It’s a guilty pleasure.)  However, I did not know what “airline” chicken was.  I guessed it had nothing to do with the mode of shipment to the restaurant.  A few seconds of googling and I had my answer.  Airline chicken is another term for “frenched” breast of chicken.  It is a boneless chicken breast with the first wing joint and tenderloin attached and is generally served skin on.

Our group did not receive an “airline” breast of chicken as no drumette was attached to the breast pieces, but the rest of the description rang true on our plates.  This is one of the most delicious pieces of chicken I have eaten in my entire life.   And I’ve eaten a lot of chicken, folks.  First of all, it was a thick piece but tender and moist throughout….perfectly cooked.  A light breading provided subtle crunchy texture.  The sauce is to die for.  It was a lick-your-plate moment.  My birthday dinner may have turned out differently had I chosen this chicken dish.  Typically, I shy away from chicken at nice restaurants because 1) I make pretty good chicken at home, 2) it usually isn’t very impressive, and 3) I feel so unadventurous and boring ordering chicken.  This chicken dish was the polar opposite of the stereotypes.

The filet was so tender there was no need for a steak knife.  Of course the staff already knew this and saved us the trouble of working around a needless utensil – no steak knives were provided.  Accompanying this mouth-watering beef medallion was an amazing Bordelaise sauce.  Bordelaise sauce is a classic French sauce named after the Bordeaux region of France.  It is typically made with dry red wine, bone marrow, butter, shallots and sauce demi-glace.  I’ll give you my definition of this Bordelaise sauce:  heavenly.

As much as I am drawn to cream sauces, I am also a sucker for asparagus.  Cream sauce AND asparagus together would launch my tastebuds into another dimension.  Adding asparagus to this plate made me such a happy girl.

We also had a super cute little red potato that had been hollowed out, the potato flesh whipped with who knows what deliciousness, and then artfully piped back into the potato shell.  It tasted as good as it looked.

The meal was topped off with tiramisu, made in-house.  Impressive-looking with multiple layers of zabaglione/mascarpone and ladyfingers, it is topped off with what could be chocolate ganache.  I’m a “dusting of cocoa” kind of girl and I felt the chocolate ganache-y stuff overpowered the flavors and lightness of the tiramisu.  Nonetheless, it was a sweet, rich ending to this outstanding meal.

The service throughout our dining experience was impressive.  Extra help materialized to facilitate the presentation of each course, serving the ladies first, but placing all plates on the table within moments.  No one was awkwardly sitting with food in front of them, waiting on the entire party to be served before they could dive in.  We were all able to enjoy hot food simultaneously.  In addition, the pace of the meal was efficient but relaxed.  The space between courses was never so long that I felt like I was actively waiting nor did I become impatient.

Of course my satisfaction level for this meal had nothing to do with the price since I wasn’t paying for my food.  I am considering only the food and the service.  I highly recommend Vincenzo’s for large parties, as long as your wallet is fat enough.

Vincenzo's Italian on Urbanspoon

 

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We Struck Gold in the Wilderness: Red River Rockhouse

rock1I don’t always travel for work, but when I do, it takes me to exciting and exotic destinations.  Ha! Don’t I wish?!!

This trip took me to Natural Bridge State Park, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  As far as state parks go, it’s pretty nice.  As far as luxury hotels go, not so much.  I think there is a prerequisite for state parks…they must be located outside areas receiving cell service.  I don’t get anything at Kentucky state parks.  Why is that?  Is it part of the relaxation plan?  Force you into it because you can’t call anyone, Pin anything, comment on anyone’s Facebook, or play Quiz Up to get your next title?  Well, I’ve got news for them: that doesn’t work on me.  It makes me nervous to feel cut off from the world.  To make matters much, much worse, one evening the wifi went out.  Along with the regular old-fashioned phones.  No land line, no cell service, no texting, no emailing….no NOTHING.   I expected an ax-murderer to jump out from behind the floral print curtains at any moment.  It was terrifying.   I thought the food choices might be terrifying, too except for the yummy pizza place, Miguel’s, across the road.  But I was so wrong.

A colleague in the area told us about a place three miles up the road from the park, Red River Rockhouse.  I’m a girl who does her homework.  At least when she has internet connectivity.  So I googled it and checked it out on Urbanspoon finding a few reviews that were positive and information about the owner, a rock-climber, who believes in organic, locally-sourced ingredients.  The menu was efficient, but several items interested me.  And the place is located in Wolfe County – a wet county between the two dry counties of Breathitt and Powell (where the park is located).  I couldn’t wait to give it a try!

Side Note:  I’m from West Virginia.  In wild and wonderful, I have no trouble finding a place to buy beer or a bottle of wine.  You can buy it at gas stations, convenience stores, drug stores, and grocery stores.  Yes, I would have to wait til the afternoon on Sundays, but it’s not an ordeal to purchase adult beverages.  Not so in Kentucky, I’ve learned.  There are LOTS of dry counties and some “moist” counties – meaning the county is dry but a city located within the county is wet.  Or something like that.  It is completely inconvenient and completely irritating.

rock1

The exterior of the restaurant blends in with the surrounding woods.  The inside is adorable!  A high ceiling with exposed beams, modern hanging lamps, and cheery colors make the dining area inviting.  You order at the counter from a menu written on a large chalkboard.  Pay, and they will deliver to the food to your table. It was such a nice day, we chose to eat outside at a picnic-y table on the deck.

I really wanted to get fries because they are fresh cut and I love, love good fries.  But I’m cutting back on the carbs so I went with tacos (corn shells are acceptable).   You have a choice of protein and a choice of shells.  One person in our party ordered a variety of shells for her plate.  I went with crunchy corn shells and the ground beef filling.  Several people ordered fresh fried tortilla chips, salsa, and guacamole for the table to share.

rock4

The portions are generous!  The food is well-presented and tastes even better than it looks.  I was completely stuffed and satisfied after devouring my three tacos.  The chips were thick and crunchy, salsa was flavorful, and guacamole creamy and delicious.  After staring at the huge mound of fries on my friend’s plate, she graciously offered me a taste.  These fries would be worth going off the diet.

rock3

The staff were friendly and joked with us like old pals.  The owner came by our table and told us stories of rock climbing, operating the restaurant, and building a home on the hill behind where we were sitting.  Such a nice guy with an enthusiasm for food and the community.

 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and my experience at the Rockhouse.  I definitely recommend this jewel in the wilderness.  I give it 4 out of 5.

Red River Rockhouse
4000 Route 11
Campton, KY
606-668-6656

Red River Rockhouse on Urbanspoon

 

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Z’s Oyster Bar and Steakhouse: A Lovely Lunch

zs 2I had the opportunity to lunch downtown, like the city workers do every day.  I really enjoyed getting out of the building, taking a nice walk (not too far so that my feet started to hurt in my high heels), and inhaling some fresh air and sunshine in the middle of the work day.  We were in meetings at the Galt House so we had many choices, but settled on Z’s.

The interior is impressive.  High-impact, modern, sleek, sophisticated.  I felt like my babe factor went up a point just by walking into the place.  Service was top shelf from the moment we entered.

I really, really wanted to order the ceviche.  But it was $12 and since I’m not eating carby foods, and therefore the tortillas would go untouched, I figured it would not be enough by itself to satisfy my appetite.  (I, unfortunately for my waistline, have a big appetite.)  I couldn’t justify spending money on the ceviche AND a salad, so I chose the Caesar salad and added grilled shrimp for some protein.  Well, wouldn’t you know it?  My friend Eddie ordered the ceviche and I was sure to have some major food envy when it arrived at our table.  I didn’t even say I was thinking about it.  But great minds think alike, at least that’s what they say.

That reminds me of something really silly.  I have a beautiful and creative friend, Liza, who came up with a clever Halloween costume a few years back.  She wore a simple black t-shirt with “THEY” printed across the front.  Get it?

Back to lunch.  A couple other friends ordered clam chowder and potato bisque along with a salad.  The soups looked and smelled divine and received rave reviews from the ladies.  Eddie’s ceviche came out and I started drooling into my cloth napkin.  That’s right….no el cheap-o paper napkins for this establishment.  The dishes were attractive, water glasses felt good in your hand, and we settled into the comfortable, luxurious chairs.

zs 1Presentation of the salads left nothing to be desired.  My Caesar looked and tasted great.  The six large shrimp were arranged around the lip of the large salad plate, well-seasoned and cooked perfectly.  Being the good accountant, I expertly allocated shrimp throughout the consumption of my salad, ending the meal with a perfect bite of salad and half a yummy shrimp.  The only thing missing was a glass of a crisp, white wine but they frown on that at my work.  Don’t the European’s drink at lunch?  Why can’t we be more like them?

I can describe this lunch in one word: lovely.  It was a respite amid a busy workday.  They have it all: atmosphere, service, food quality, and presentation.  Was it cheap?  No.  But it wasn’t significantly more than anyplace else downtown and typically, you get what you pay for.  If you want cheap, go to Subway.  Was it a good value?  In this reviewer’s opinion, yes.  I give Z’s four out of five.

Z’s Oyster Bar & Steakhouse
115 S. 4th St.
Louisville, KY 40202
502.855.8000

Z's Oyster Bar & Steakhouse (Downtown) on Urbanspoon

 

 

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Senor Iguanas

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Once upon a time, my husband and I were dining at Senor Iguanas every single week. No lie. It was becoming a problem for our waistlines. To compensate, we began sharing a meal instead of ordering two separate entrees. Then, suddenly, all the familiar faces were gone. It seemed the entire staff had turned over overnight. The place lost its hold on us and we quit going for a while.

Note to owners/managers: Don’t underestimate the importance of the waitstaff at your restaurant. Great staff will foster repeat business and increase customer satisfaction.

We still catch the fever for tacos and burritos once a week and have been spreading the love all over town, frequenting the close-to-our-home El Nopal in warm weather because they have a nice patio (I think the interior is blah so I don’t like to go there if I can’t sit outside). Well, the weather wasn’t patio-conducive last night so we decided to revisit our old friend, Senor Iguanas. What a good decision.

The interior is bright and neat with a large bar area and a party space on the lower level. There is also a deck with ceiling fans and new furniture (much better than the wonky rattan pieces it replaced). I noticed right away as we walked by other parties to our seats that they updated the plates since out last visit – large modern-looking white plates with slightly upturned corners. I wondered if they were trying to compete with Guaca Mole in the dish department.

The menus have also been revamped which gave me momentary distress until I found a couple of our old favorites still among the choices. (Of note, there are tortas on the menu now.) I went with the enchilada suizas and my husband chose the loco burrito.

One down side to the menu is a very limited a la carte selection. Since I am low-carbing it, beans and rice are no-nos. I had to pay for the sides to get my suizas but asked the kitchen to keep them off my plate and substitute some extra lettuce instead.

I really like the salsa at Senor Iguanas – plenty of cilantro and heat. There are always some chopped onions in the mix which I scarf up because my husband dislikes them. Sometimes we’re just like Jack Sprat and his wife! They also bring you a ramekin of a ranch dressing-like dip that we pass on.

The food was very good. The presentation was a notch above typical Mexican joints, partly because of the new plates. I received two corn tortillas filled with tender shredded chicken topped with verde and white cheese sauces with spicy pico de gallo and a generous amount of romaine lettuce on the side. I’m sure the romaine came out of a bag but I enjoyed the upgrade from the usual iceberg. My husband’s loco burrito was barely contained on the plate, placed diagonally. I’d guess that baby measured twelve inches in length. It’s filled with all kinds of goodness including steak, guacamole, cheese sauce, and more. He shared a bite of the insides – loco yummy.

I wish I could have had a margarita but alas I am not consuming sugar. A Michelob Ultra with a lime in it is the best I can do.

It seems like a simple thing but it is surprisingly difficult at some places to get a fresh jalapeno on the side. My husband asked about a jalapeno and our waiter asked if he would like canned or fresh. I could see the relief on his face when he responded “fresh”. Jalapeno is an essential ingredient in pico de gallo so wouldn’t it stand to reason that they have some in the kitchen that could be sliced and delivered to your table? We have a devil of a time getting it (or simply can’t) at some Mexican places.

I was disappointed that the crowd was pretty thin. We passed by El Nopal and El Toro before arriving at Senor Iguanas. The other two restaurants were much busier. I ask those people: what the heck are you thinking? Senor Iguanas is great. You should go there instead. I give it four out of five.

Senor Iguanas
9424 Shelbyville Road
Louisville, KY  40222
502-425-4581

Senor Iguanas on Urbanspoon

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From Susan’s Kitchen: A True Veggie Pizza

pizza

I know this may seem strange, but I am indeed a foodaholic on a low-carb eating plan.  I would like to stay on it all the time but I am weak.  After recommitting myself to the lifestyle three weeks ago, I have been daydreaming about big bowls of spaghetti and giant loaves of garlic bread.

I was glad to find out that I’m not the only food blogger limiting carbs…Elizabeth from Epicurious Louisville is too.  (Love her blog…she has a really cool job.)

If you haven’t thought much about it before, there are carbohydrates in pretty much everything except meats.  Many veggies are low in carbs as are many dairy products.  (The Paleo folks don’t do dairy, however.)  So….that’s primarily all I eat these days. The plan becomes more difficult when we have kids in the house, like tonight…pizza night.

I have tried lots of kooky low-carb substitutes for foods you aren’t supposed to eat.  Most of them suck.  I happened upon a website called Your Lighter Side with a nice recipe collection, including lots of pizzas.  With rave reviews, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the cauliflower and zucchini pizza crusts.  By golly, I was going to have pizza tonight too!

The basic idea is to make a giant “latke” out of shredded zucchini, mozzarella, and egg.  Bake it in the oven, put your toppings on and finish it off under the broiler.  For the complete recipe (and many others) go to the website.  I used all my favorites on top: green bell pepper, onion, tomato, and lots of jalapeno.

IT WAS DELICIOUS!!  The center was not super crispy but about two inches in from the edge all around was crispy and the entire experience was very satisfying. While some of the zucchini shreds were visible in the finished product, I did not get a distint zucchini flavor so don’t be afraid to try it.  I will be making this pizza crust again and again.

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